One of the most important skills that someone can have in our modern world is the ability to communicate. This means that being bilingual (or knowing even more than two languages) is a superpower in disguise!
Whether for personal, work, travel, or other reasons, learning another language can be an enriching and connective experience. It can also be helpful in situations that you may not expect. Perhaps the best part of knowing another language is being able to detect and deter insults in other languages from people who judge you without knowing you understand them!
These are some of the funniest and most ridiculous stories from bilingual people around the world who share how they clapped back at people who had no idea what was coming.
25. A Near-Scam Situation
I’m American, but can read and speak Russian on an intermediate level. A few years ago while visiting St. Petersburg, I was buying tickets for the hydrofoil to Peterhof. All the signs at the ticket booth were in Russian, and I could read the ticket prices. The ticket agent assumed I didn’t know Russian and tried to tell me the ticket cost three times more than the stated price. I looked her right in the eye and said in Russian, “I see on the board here that the ticket I want is (x) rubles.” Her jaw dropped, and the ticket agent sitting next to her started laughing her rear end off.
24. A Heartwarming Exchange In Lithuanian
My family is Lithuanian and at the time had recently moved to the States. My great-grandmother was riding a bus with her friend in Chicago when a young African-American man walked on the bus and took a seat nearby my great-grandmother. To her friend in Lithuanian, she mentioned that the man was very, very handsome and had a really well-tailored suit on. (I like to imagine it was more like “that guy is hot” but this is how I was told the story). They continued to chit-chat in Lithuanian until the man stood to leave. He turned to my great-grandmother and in fluent Lithuanian thanked her for the compliment and said she was quite lovely herself and turned to leave.
23. A Wild Flemish Coincidence In South Africa
I’m Flemish. Working as a safari guide in Kruger area, South Africa.
One time, my boss asks me to go pick a family of 4 up at the Klaserie reserve gate, do an afternoon game drive with them, and drop them off again afterward. This was very uncommon; normally we only do game drives with people that book a room in our own lodge on the reserve.
So I pick them up, introduce myself and go over the rules, all in English. They reply in English, or at least: the dad does, and normally I can pick up straight away if it’s someone from France, Belgium, Holland or Germany. But his English was Oxford English. So I thought; English people. Off we went!
Ten minutes into the game drive I hear them speak in Flemish, and not only that, IN MY OWN DIALECT. Side note; every Flemish town has a dialect, we can hear what region/province other Flemish people are from and if they are from the same region, we can often even pinpoint the exact little town or community they are from.
Oooh, I was going to have fun with these folks! I found a few nice animal sightings, I spoke English the whole time, but then one sentence to the next, switched to their exact dialect. I thought; now they’re going to be surprised! But nope… we all kept chatting in Flemish now. Only 20 minutes later, the daughter, maybe 10 years old, goes “wait a minute; he speaks Flemish!”
We all had a good laugh. I asked them where they were from. They literally lived one street away from me. It’s a small world, folks!
22. Getting Perfect Revenge On Cruel Co-Workers
I lived in South Korea for three years, but I never learned too much of the language. A friend of mine is 100% Korean but is very tall and was educated in America and New Zealand so she has an American accent. Her co-teachers at her school all assumed she couldn’t speak Korean so they would talk bad about her constantly while she would listen on and feel terrible.
She said nothing for a whole year until she had to speak at the end of year ceremony. The school offered her someone to translate but she refused and in front of 800 or so students and faculty members she delivered her address in perfect Korean. She subtly called out the coworkers that had spent an entire year calling her a foreign pig. Apparently one started crying from the shame of it. I wish I had got to see that.
21. Sneakily Satisfying Japanese Clients
My cousin is a big white guy who studied for 2 years in Japan during college. He worked for one of the heads of Honda America for a few years. When the head guy learned that he spoke Japanese, he would make sure my cousin was in all the meetings and phone conferences with the Japanese branch.
My cousin would listen to everything the Japanese would be saying to each other and report it to his boss during breaks. As such the boss looked like a psychic to the Japanese because after a break he would address their concerns without being prompted. The boss made mad bonuses every quarter and always funnelled a bunch of that to my cousin.
20. A Helpful Linguist To Germans In Distress
My mom’s a linguist and speaks about 15 languages fluently and as such, I picked up a couple along the way. Most of my childhood was spent in Germany so I have a firm grasp of the language… which doesn’t really seem to match my appearance. I’m a 6’3, 220lbs, black man, who speaks German. Now, this isn’t too uncommon a sight in Germany, but in North America, I’m a unicorn.
So I was standing at the bus stop one day in the heart of downtown Toronto and there were these two 60-something-year-old German ladies who were not having a good time. They were trying to find the Art Gallery and were fed up with the fact that they were having such a terrible time navigating because their English-speaking children had left them alone for the day.
I didn’t have anything particularly important planned for that day, so I turned to them and said something to the effect of “You know, our city has a lot to offer if you know where to look. Would you two like me to show you where the Gallery is, and a couple places you can get lunch along the way.”
They nearly fainted. They were sooooo happy that they found someone who spoke German and couldn’t stop taking pictures with me to show their family ‘the guy that saved their day.’ I walked them to the Gallery and gave them a bit of an impromptu walking/bus tour along the way. That was the day I gained two Omas.
19. Hilariously Intercepting A Dental Scam
I was working at a dental clinic in Germany, and these 2 guys walk in and start speaking in Arabic, not knowing that both I and my supervisor can understand it. The first guy (actual patient) is nervously telling his friend that this would never work, and his friend is telling him to shut up and play along. So the supervisor and I try to figure out what kind of game they’re trying to play. Apparently, they were trying to lie about the patient’s age to get his dental treatment done for free; (I don’t know how that worked, I was just an intern) unlucky for him, his teeth told the truth (you cant fake being 16 when your wisdom teeth are ALL THE WAY out).
So me and my supervisor shut up about it, and I’m in actual pain trying to hold back from laughing as the friend is convincing the patient that we’re idiots who don’t speak Arabic and cant understand their trick. Of course, until I cant anymore and decide to discuss the case with my supervisor. Right there in front of them. In Arabic.
I have never seen someone turn so many different colors so fast.
18. Smacking Rude Manager With A Trilingual Truth
When I started working at McDonald’s at 16, none of the other employees realized I could speak a fair amount of Spanish. A few of my coworkers would talk crap about me in Spanish and I pretended for a few weeks that I didn’t know what they were saying.
Then one day a manager told me she was worth more than me because she was bilingual. So I told her (in Spanish) that I was actually trilingual. The looks on their faces when they realized I spoke Spanish all along was priceless.
17. Hilarious Dutch Commentary Over A Game Of Water Polo
My family and I went to Sri Lanka for two weeks to see where my mom grew up and general beach stuff. For some reason, we were like the only people in the hotel we were staying at aside from a wedding party that left a day after we got there.
A few days in there was another family staying there, I believe from Suriname and we were all hanging at the pool and decided to play a game of water polo against each other. Things got exciting and one of the daughters yelled out something in Dutch like “go for the big fat guy!” my Dutch dad replied “what big fat guy?” and everybody laughed.
16. Avoiding Getting Swindled And Snapping At A Handicap-Hater
My friend and I were sharing a cab with two girls we didn’t know. We just decided to share a taxi with them, because it was a long way and we wanted to save some money. They started speaking Swedish not knowing my friend is also a Finnish Swede (her mother language is Swedish, she has been in Swedish school, but is Finn and speaks Finnish fluently). I understand Swedish but I was too under the influence to care. Suddenly she texts me:
“They are planning to leave us with the bill.”
I texted that we should tell the driver so my friend just said:
“These girls will pay half of this before they leave.”
He got the hint and didn’t open the doors before they paid.
15. Calling Out Cruelty And Scoring Free Rice
The people at the Chinese food place on my campus spoke Chinese to the exchange students. But even though I spoke Chinese I just always spoke English to them since I have an accent when I speak Chinese. But one day I got all meat no rice since I had a rice maker at home. And when I was paying the lady says to the person beside her “fat guy wants meat no rice.” And I responded in Chinese, “actually I have rice at home.” They didn’t charge me for the order and started giving me a bit extra whenever I go there.
14. Poking Fun At Sneaky Negotiators
I don’t speak Spanish fluently, but I understand it just fine. I used to sell cars in Houston and as you can imagine, we had a lot of bilingual Spanish speakers come to buy cars from us. They never asked if my super clean cut white guy self spoke Spanish, so I never told them I did.
It was fun to have a couple that would speak English to me and Spanish to each other. They would literally tell each other everything like how much they wanted to pay and their negotiating tactics… They would say things like, “if he offers to take $500 off let’s do it, but I’m going to ask for $1,000.”
So once they said yes, inevitability one would ask the other a product question in Spanish and I’d jump in and answer in English. The looks on their faces when they have that “a-ha” moment were priceless.
13. Withholding Fluent German To Tease Fellow Tourists
A friend of mine was visiting my country for a few days from Italy. He was staying in a hostel dorm that happened to have a group of German tourists sharing it. He said anytime he was back in the dorm he would hear them laughing and making fun of him in German.
Little did they know he speaks fluent German.
He stayed quiet for the few days he was there and remained perfectly pleasant, speaking English to them when they had conversations but otherwise keeping to himself. On the last day as he was leaving the dorm he turned to the group to say goodbye and added: “I hope you all enjoy the rest of your trip” in German to them. He said the look on their faces was priceless when they realized he’d understood everything they’d been saying about him.
12. Firing Back At Salon’s “Princess” Standard
My step-mother grew up in Japan and speaks fluent Japanese. She looks Italian and white. She has an olive skin tone, and since she is only a quarter Japanese, she doesn’t look like she is from any east Asian-speaking country.
One day she and some friends went to get their nails (both hands and feet) done at a salon for some “girl time.” The lady’s who were doing the work were speaking fluent Japanese and were mostly gossiping about men and other things until they got to the feet part of the said procedure.
My step mother’s friend is a little overweight, and she doesn’t have runway model style feet. Well, the ladies who work at the salon are just starting to make fun of her in Japanese. Laughing and giggling; enjoying themselves in someone’s else’s misfortune and looks.
My stepmother said she let this go on for too long. It was about 5 minutes of them talking crap before my stepmother replied In Japanese. Her comment to them:
“I didn’t realize that we needed to look like princesses to get service here.” (Something along those lines).
The ladies stopped and looked at my stepmother with extreme guilt. They apologized in English and were silent the remainder of the time my stepmother and her friends were there.
11. Mocking A Silly “Baby Face” Comment
When I was stationed in Korea, I was getting a haircut and the hairdresser had like an assistant or a new person helping her get me seated and prepared. She says to the main girl “He looks like a baby!” (I have a baby face and was like 22 at the time). I responded in Korean with, “I look like a baby?”
She was really startled and embarrassed and noped out of there for the rest of the haircut. The main hairdresser took advantage of being able to talk with me in Korean, though.
10. Die-Hard Mexican Sports Fan Stunning Rude Spectators
I’m a Mexican who speaks Hebrew fluently.
I was actually in the United States in a deli around the time when the World Cup was going on in 2014. I was wearing a National team jersey and had been watching with family. We usually paint the colors of our flag on our cheeks (tradition). The game was over and we were getting food.
So my parents, brother and I walk into a booth. We sit and the people behind us (three middle-aged women) start speaking in Hebrew saying: “look at these stupid Mexicans (which should have been a giveaway since the word for Mexicans in Hebrew is “mexicanim”) being loud and thinking they own the place. Typical.”
Well, I turn around, look at them and answer in Hebrew: “yes we are very proud of our country and the great job they are doing at the World Cup. If it bothers you, you can move.”
The look on their faces was priceless. I’ve never felt so empowered.
9. A Friendship Formed Over Sweet Swiss Gossip
I’m Swiss and Peruvian and live in Peru, so I don’t look at all like a Swiss guy.
There were two Swiss girls sitting behind me on a bus talking about latino guys. Then one of them asked the other if she found me attractive. I turned around and said that I would love to know that too. The look of confusion and shame was priceless. Then we just all laughed. Now I’ve got two new friends!
8. A Brilliant Manager Calling Out A Fake Deaf Customer
We had a large family reunion dinner at a restaurant and we were all sharing stories. My funny Uncle was telling us how he used to pretend he was deaf and his sister would translate. To prove it, he asked the waitress to get the manager. When he came over, my uncle started signing to him… with made up and exaggerated gestures.
My aunt told him that the food was good and the server was excellent… all the while the manager just smiled and nodded. When they were done “talking,” the manager said in sign language, he spoke ASL and knew it was a lie. We blew up laughing and my uncles face turned beet red.
7. Hysterical Mistaken Flirting On An Airplane
I’m Brazilian and was flying to Rio from Atlanta. There were these two very attractive girls with their mother speaking English very fluently and one of them had their seat right next to mine. We exchanged some courtesy in English as I just assumed they were American and so did they. They were Brazilian-Americans and so did not have an accent and I started speaking English from a young age so as long as I don’t talk too much I can go unnoticed.
So they start putting their carry on luggage in the bin overhead and the mother says to her daughters, in Portuguese:
“Coitado, tá achando que vou deixar uma de vocês sentar do lado dele.”
“Poor thing, he thinks I’ll let one of you sit next to him.”
So I just turn to her and say, in Portuguese:
“Don’t worry, ma’am, I’m just being polite. I do have a girlfriend and it’ll be a pleasure to share this flight with you.”
She just went: “oh”
And then she sat there in silence for the whole flight.
6. Cracking A “What Did You Say?” To Hungarian Bullies
My sister and I are Hungarian but grew up in England and speak fluent Hungarian and English with natural accents. We’d also spend most of our summers growing up in Hungary where since we speak English perfectly people assumed in public we were from England and would occasionally say something mean or negative not expecting us to understand. There are few things more satisfying than replying in perfect Hungarian ‘What did you say?’ and watching people’s eyes widen in panic and profusely apologize.
5. Snapping At Cute Boys In Russian
When I was living in China, I used to run in this giant park. One morning on one of my runs, I see these three young men hanging out by the path. Not too many foreigners in the area, not too many joggers either, so they immediately notice and start talking about me.
One guy says, “Is she Russian?” There was a small but significant Russian population in the city, so, not a bad guess.
Another guy: “Talk to her!”
First guy: “Nah, she wouldn’t understand.”
By this time I’m right next to these guys, and I yelled over my shoulder “Yes, I do!” as I ran past.
They absolutely lost their mind. I could still hear them laughing after I went around the bend.
4. Blowing Away A Disrespectful Employer
I once interviewed for a part-time school holiday job, together with a good friend of mine. My friend is Chinese, the majority race of the country I live in. I, however, am quite clearly not.
The first thing the Human Resources manager says when he sees me is “We need someone who speaks Mandarin,” a criterion not stated anywhere in the employment ad, and which subtly translates to “Chinese candidates preferred.”
My friend, while ethnically Chinese, speaks little to no Mandarin. I, on the other hand, speak it rather fluently.
Probably as a test, the Human Resource manager decides to field us questions in Mandarin, clearly intent on cutting me out of the interview.
My friend turns pale, as he stumbles along to answer the question posed in whatever halting Mandarin he can scrape together.
The manager then turns to me, rather arrogantly, waiting for my reply.
It gave me great joy to tell him straight to his face “Thank you for the opportunity, but clearly I am not the right candidate you are looking for to fill this position since I am not Chinese” in crisp fluent Mandarin.
The look of bewilderment on his face was priceless.
3. Manager Incredibly Gracious For Japanese Language Bridge
I recently went to Japan for my first ever international trip and was totally prepared to have to struggle through all my day-to-day interactions in Japanese but was surprised at how widespread even a basic understanding of English is over there. Everyone assumes you won’t speak any Japanese at all so they stick to as much English as they’re comfortable with or you basically just play charades.
At a restaurant in Kobe, the waitress was practically fluent in English so we chatted a while and it came up that I’m studying Japanese so we had a little small talk and she was impressed. Then the owner came over to talk but wasn’t as confident in his English so he had the waitress translate. He was asking all these questions about where we’d been so far, where we were staying, how we liked everything, if we’d been down to Kobe Port yet, etc. It was simple enough that I understood 100% without her translation, and the waitress could tell. Finally, she says to him, in Japanese “By the way, he understands what you’re saying.” His eyes practically bugged out of his head and he got SUPER excited and asked if we wouldn’t mind waiting 30 minutes for him to close up and send everyone home.
So, I wait, he closes everything up and we all end up hanging out that night. He drove us around the city, bought us drinks, even drove back to the Airbnb. Japan is amazing.
2. Accepting A Camouflagued Compliment And Uncovering Language Secrets
I am 100% white and look very European and was traveling to South Korea with my also very European looking Spanish friend but we both speak conversational level Korean. As we were walking around a park in Daegu (a fairly large city south of Seoul), a bunch of seniors in the park were talking about how pretty we were. We turned around and thanked them in Korean, and they were very taken aback and then asked us where we were from. After telling them they said: “If everyone is as pretty as you two, I want to go there.” It made our day as they were so sweet.
I went to an Asian dollar store in Jeju, South Korea. All my friends checked out first, but they were all East Asian looking. The cashiers dealt with them as normal. When I get to the cashier, the guy noticeably pales and then turns to his coworker in panic. “Dude, I don’t speak English, What do I do?” Coworker: “Just deal with it.” Guy: “I don’t speak English, but I can speak Chinese” Coworker: “You speak Chinese?! I didn’t know that” Guy: “hey (3rd person opposite the cashier) do you speak English, help me!!” Guy 3: “Dude just deal with it!” Me: “…..it’s okay… I speak Korean” The look on his face was hilarious.
1. Child’s Hysterical Opinion On “Fat And Stupid” America
I was in Germany, and a middle school teacher asked me to come in as a guest for one of her English classes. The teacher introduced me, I said hello and that I was from the U.S. and happy to be in their class.
The teacher said “So do you have any questions in English for an American? What do you think an American is like?”
One of the kids near the front says in German, kind of under his breath but definitely loud enough that most of the class can hear, “fat and stupid!”
The kids laugh, the teacher turns bright red. I don’t know what to do, so I just say “Of course, many Americans can speak German” in German.
The kid almost wet himself. He looked like a baby deer that had wandered onstage at a Beyonce concert.
I thought he was just being a jerk and had intended me to understand what he was saying. Apparently, though he actually hadn’t thought through that an American in Germany in their language class might actually speak their language.